Professor of Law & Director of this native Law & Policy Center, Michigan State University
Matthew L.M. Fletcher works for eight Indian tribes as a judge that is appellateGrand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Hoopa Valley Tribe, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, Nottawaseppi Huron Band regarding the Potawatomi, Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians, Poarch Band of Creek Indians, Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, and Santee Sioux Tribe). He could be associated with the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians as a member that is enrolled.
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Accidents happen. And often those accidents include the workers of Indian tribes. The Supreme Court is planned to listen to instance that may rule on the the limitations of appropriate resistance of tribes and their workers. The case could expose Indian tribes to unexpected – and significant – liability in state and federal courts to which tribes are strangers although it deals with a narrow question in a personal injury lawsuit.
In Lewis v. Clarke, the Supreme Court will deal with whether a tribal casino worker – in this instance, a limo driver – could be sued for an accident that took place as the worker had been in the clock but outside of Indian lands.
As being a scholar, i’ve examined the complexities of tribal immunity that is sovereign tribal government-owned companies in addition to unique challenges Indian tribes face in federal and state courts. My research leads us to think the end result for the full situation is very important since it could set a precedent that will damage tribes’ ability to govern.
In belated 2011, a Mohegan Sun Casino limousine motorist rear-ended Brian and Michelle Lewis’ car on I-95 near Norwalk, Connecticut, hurting the few when you look at the collision. Usually, under Connecticut law, hurt individuals have couple of years to register an injury that is personal in state court.
Under Mohegan legislation, nevertheless, the statute of restrictions duration is just one 12 months, maybe maybe not two.
For reasons unclear into the general public record, the Lewis few would not bring a suit until 2 yrs after the event, in 2013. As it had been far too late to sue in tribal court, they brought the suit to Connecticut courts.
And right here’s the sc rub, lawfully talking: Indian tribes may not be sued in state court without their permission. This provision is what’s known as “sovereign immunity. ” Us constitutional legislation teaches that federal and state governments can’t be sued in court absent their consent, a doctrine that predates the synthesis of the Constitution. Certainly, Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Paper No. 81 put down this concept in 1788.
Counsel when it comes to Lewis couple most likely knew tribes benefit from the immunity that is same decided to sue the limo motorist alternatively regarding the tribe, the driver’s boss at the time of the collision.
Accidental injury lawyers have a tendency to look for deep pouches that may spend a million buck judgment,
So a suit against a limo motorist does not look like a winning strategy in the event that objective is just a big payout. It seems the Lewises’ attorney thinks the tribe will part of to help make good a judgment against its worker.
That lawyer may be appropriate. For company reasons, in the event that Mohegan tribe would like to retain good workers, it could be forced to spend cash damages awarded by an official state court, as one tribe argued in an early on situation. If your tribe does not provide appropriate defenses to a member of staff, much the way in which other organizations would, it might have chilling impact by exposing workers to undue danger.
The Mohegan Sun is among the two biggest tribal-owned gambling enterprises in the usa. AP Photo/Jessica Hill